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The Audi S8 is the high-performance version of the German automaker's A8 sedan. Offered only in short-wheelbase form, the S8 was added to the Audi lineup in the late 1990s, and is now in its third generation.
The first Audi S8 was introduced in Europe in 1997, but took until the 2001 model year to arrive in U.S. showrooms. Priced from $72,500 and above, this S8 set the pattern for all future performance derivatives spun off from Audi's unique, aluminum space-frame sedan. The first edition packed a 360-horsepower V-8 engine and standard all-wheel drive; American-market cars were only offered with an automatic transmission. The higher-output model was distinguished by "S" badging, added aluminum trim, and more standard luxury features, as well as 18-inch wheels. The first S8 had a short run in the U.S., since that generation of A8 sedan went out of production in the fall of 2002.
The A8 was redesigned in that year, but it wouldn't be until 2007 that Audi revisited the S8 for American drivers. The wait was worth it: instead of a V-8 engine underhood, the S8 bore a mighty, Lamborghini-derived V-10 engine, in somewhat tamer form. At 5.2 liters of displacement, the engine generated an awe-inspiring 450 hp at 7000 rpm in the S8 and 398 lb-ft of torque, all shuffled to the tires via a Tiptronic six-speed automatic. Quattro all-wheel drive had variable torque distribution, with a rolling 40:60 split, with the ability to move up to 85 percent of the torque to the rear, or as much as 65 percent to the front.
The S8’s transmission, steering, chassis, adaptive air suspension and brakes were upgraded, and it rolled on beefy 20-inch alloy wheels wearing 265/35 R20 high-performance (three-season) tires. Audi offered a carbon-fiber-trimmed interior, while its Multi Media Interface (MMI) system came standard.
After ending that S8 model run in the 2009 model year, Audi once again put the uber-sedan on hold, this time until the 2013 model year. The latest Audi S8 has reverted back to V-8 form, but it hasn't lost any performance--it's more powerful, in fact, thanks to a 4.0-liter V-8 with twin turbocharging and 520 horsepower, as well as 481 pound-feet of torque. Via standard all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic, the S8 can drop 0-60 mph times of 3.9 seconds while delivering 19 miles per gallon on the EPA's combined cycle.
Today's S8 also has Audi Drive Select, which offers the choice of five driving modes--Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Individual and Efficiency--which allow the driver to change everything from the suspension damping, to the steering, throttle response, transmission speed and even the Sport Differential.
The S8 returns for the 2014 model year with few changes--you can still connect to the Web through Audi Connect, see beautiful Google Earth maps on the navigation system, and bathe in stunning Bang & Olufsen audio.